Ironic, but H. Lee Atwater, a conservative Republican who worked on the campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George Bush (managing the latter's 1988 presidential campaign) and is credited with supplying the platform with buzz phrases like "welfare queens," "evil empire," and Willie Horton, was a Southern soul and blues-loving musician who was once offered a gig (after he had graduated from high school) with Lee Dorsey's ("Working in a Coal Mine") touring revue.
Born February 27, 1951, in Atlanta, GA, Atwater grew up in Columbia, SC; unlike his classmates, who liked either British soul, country, or hard rock, Atwater's affinities lay with R&B music, particularly the Southern soul and blues genres. At the age of 12, he attended a James Brown concert armed with binoculars so he could watch the guitarist's fingering and learn the parts. He once stopped an assembly during high school (actually, he ran up on the stage) to announce -- shaking like a leaf -- that Otis Redding had passed. Indeed, he admired black bands and treated them well when they came to his high school; according to associates, Atwater treated blacks better than his Caucasian associates.
During his school days, he led his own band and gigged as the Upsetter's Revue. Diligence coupled with hours of practice in his parents' garage made him an accomplished guitarist (both lead and rhythm) and a not half-bad vocalist, as he demonstrated on the Red Hot & Blue CD, where he assembled a bunch of soul and blues artists for a live recording; its title came from a popular Memphis radio show in the '50s hosted by Dewey Phillips. At one time, the revue was 15 members strong. They played malls and clubs as far away as Mississippi. He turned down the gig with Dorsey after high school because his parents insisted he go to college. After graduation, he went to work for a public relations firm run by Harry Dent, where he got involved in strategizing the eventual campaign of Reagan. He became the head honcho of the Republican National Committee at age 37, but, unfortunately, passed from a brain tumor on March 29, 1991. A year prior, Red Hot & Blue came out. John Brady sums up Atwater's life story in the 1997 book Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater. ~ Andrew Hamilton, Rovi